Special Report Côte d’Ivoire: from colonialism to cronyism

Following hotly disputed election results and growing civil unrest, Nakama Popoh reports on the historical legacy and international powers influencing political elites in Côte d’Ivoire today.

New in Ceasefire, Special Reports - Posted on Wednesday, February 23, 2011 9:00 - 2 Comments

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By Nakama Popoh

Following disputed election results and growing civil unrest, Nakama Popoh reports on the historical legacy and international powers influencing political elites in Côte d’Ivoire today.

A double standard for democracy?

This week, at least six protesters challenging the outcome of recent elections in Côte d’Ivoire have been killed by state forces. For those less familiar with the history and politics of Côte d’Ivoire the events that unfolded after the 28th November 2010 may have come as a surprise. Following November’s election, the incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo, is refusing to accept his defeat by former prime minister Alassane Dramane Ouattara.

Through the use of the constitutional council, one of his close allies, Paul Yao Ndre, ruled that Gbagbo has until now successfully occupied the presidential palace – claiming that the irregularities that occurred in the Northern part of the country (Pro-Ouattara ) were severe enough to discredit the votes of 7 regions. Rarely does an “election gone wrong” in Africa attract as much attention as the recent presidential elections in Côte d’Ivoire. The French government have encouraged the African Union to take military action in Côte d’Ivoire in order to restore democracy in the country.

In the Summer of 2009 when the new president of Gabon, Ali Bongo Ondimba, proclaimed himself the winner of the elections, not a single member of the ‘international community’ raised concerns about the contestation by opposition leader Mba Obame. Indeed, the election results were largely contested by the very people that cast their ballots with the hopes of democratically electing a president of their own, following over 30 years of despotism led by Ali’s father, Omar Bongo Ondimba – a candidate carefully selected, maintained and entertained in power by France in 1967.

In Burkina Faso, President Blaise Campaoré won the November 2010 elections with a crushing majority, amassing over 80% of the vote. Such a landslide should have raised eyebrows, but neither France nor the international community brandished their usual rhetoric on democracy – even though Blaise Compaoré has been in power for 23 years and has successfully repressed opposition groups and tweaked his country’s constitution in order to maintain his power.

The list of African leaders (From Sassou Nguesso to Bokassa) who have rigged presidential elections and literally gotten away with murder is extensive. Yet the eyes of the international community have not only remained closed, but such leaders have been promoted to the roles of mediators in the Ivorian conflicts. These include Blaise Campaoré, president of Burkina Faso since 1987 and now Obiang Théodoro, the president of Equatorial Guinea for over 30 years.

Besides Côte d’Ivoire, the leaders stated above entertain close and privileged ties with Western powers, composed of the USA, and the European Union with France being the main actor and assuming its position as the post-colonial power. For many years, Gbagbo was a willing agent of Western economic and political interests until the 2002 rebellion that split the country into a rebel-controlled North and a Government-led South. The civil unrest followed government-led attacks in the Northern city of Bouaké, during which a French base was hit by the Ivorian air force. Former president Jacques Chirac responded by ordering an immediate attack, which resulted in the bombing of all military fleet in the country. An angry mob of Ivorian patriots took to the streets to protest against what they saw as an illegitimate attack by their former colonial power, and were immediately met with bullets from the French army which had by then began occupying the country’s airport.

French support for Ouattara, the leader of the Ivorian opposition, is a clear response to Gbagbo’s diversion from French interests. While Gbagbo could continue to oppose French influence, Ouattara’s credentials as a long-standing economist at the IMF, has earned him support from many Western states, including the French.

From the Colonial era to multinationals and the African elite

Côte d’Ivoire was once the pride of the Francophone Empire, labelled “France’s backyard”. The resources at the time ranged from precious minerals to exotic agricultural produce such as coffee and cocoa. The riches produced by Côte d’Ivoire contributed to the prosperity of French entrepreneurs as well as the French economy, while the ancestral inhabitants of Côte d’Ivoire under the colonial rule became further underdeveloped.

In the mid 20th century during the wave of independence on the African continent, the prospect of losing their colonies was a terrifying prospect for the French. In light of these events General Charles de Gaulle proclaimed the independence of all French colonies but discretely created a neo-colonial architecture to manage the Ivorian economy and political leaders, constructed with the help of his right hand man Jacques Foccart.

This mafia-like organisation would be named “Francafrique”- a name given to the enterprise by the first Ivorian leader Felix Houphouët Boigny – a man of great wealth installed by his close friend de Gaulle, under whom he served as a minister in France. As has recently been shown in a French documentary (Françafrique, la Raison d’Etat), the main objective of the Francafrique project was to maintain France’s strategic position in its former colonies and maximise the benefits of their economic and political offerings.

Houphouët- Boigny, the first Ivorian Leader of African descent, would rule Côte d’Ivoire for 33 years following formal decolonisation, while securing the interests of the French elites that maintained his power. The wealth of Côte d’Ivoire was successfully exploited by French firms and Boigny’s Bank account got bigger.

This scenario remained standard practice in Francophone Africa, where friendly dictators would be installed by the former colonial power. Guinea’s Ahmed Sekou Touré was the only exception, as he refused to enter Francafrique, expressing that his people would rather endure poverty in freedom than wealth in bondage.  M’ba, Bongo, Bokassa, Eyadema, Campaoré, Sassou Ngesso and others would rule African States in the interest of the French, crushing political opposition and repressing dissidents with violent authoritarianism.

Boigny was a priceless ally for the Francafrique project as he not only secured economic interest in Côte d’Ivoire but also a strategic position in the West African sub region, helping to topple leaders unfriendly to the project. Such unfriendly leaders include the late Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso and President Olympio of Togo – both assassinated by their successors, with French support. The long history of French support for dictators and election rigging on the African continent appears to be inconsistent with France’s current stance in Côte d’Ivoire.  This change in approach can be explained by the access to key resources and lucrative business opportunities in the region.

Economic Motives

Côte d’Ivoire constitutes France’s richest former colony in the West African region. Until recently it contributed more than 40% of the UEMOA’s (Monetary Union of West African States) economic output and so its departure from this alliance of countries (created by France) could well lead to its collapse. The CFA currency (Communauté Financière d’Afrique, formerly known as Colonies Françaises d’Afrique under de Gaulle) is the mechanism that holds the union together.

Many Ivorian Economists such as Nicholas Agbohou and Mamadou Coulibaly have demonstrated the mechanisms that operate this monetary union which allow it to divert important resources to the French treasury. All countries belonging to the CFA union must deposit 60% of their reserves in the Central Bank of the West African states (BCAO). This bank is effectively controlled by France, through the French members of the bank that sit as permanent members of the administrative council that enjoy the power to veto any decision.

This was one of the preconditions France imposed on the BCAO members for the CFA’s value to be guaranteed by the Euro. This monetary system assures France direct and exclusive access to Ivorian raw materials in all CFA zones. Through the use of this mechanism any financial transaction with Ivory Coast and the other CFA zones would have to involve the French treasury – the only institution allowed to convert CFA francs into other currencies.

Having secured so many strategic and economic advantages in Côte d’Ivoire, it is difficult to imagine how France could stay neutral in light of the presidential elections. It would be unthinkable for France to accept any government or individual seeking to reshuffle the distribution of Ivorian resources, especially if this reshuffling allocates the lion’s share of the wealth to anyone else but French business.

Today, strategic sectors of the Ivorian economy are run by French multinationals. Maritime transport is largely controlled by the Groupe Bolloré owned by one of Sarkozy’s cronies, Vincent Bolloré. This group practically controls Abidjan’s Port Bouët, one of the largest container ports in Africa. Furthermore Bolloré controls the Ivorian-Burkinabé railway, Sitarail, while maintaining a strong presence in many other African countries.

Bouygues, owned by the French businessman Martin Bouygues (another crony of Sarkozy) has been, since independence, the number one construction company in Côte d’Ivoire. Through privatization, it is has also secured the control of water distribution, electricity production and distribution through the Compagnie Ivoirienne de l’Electricité and the Compagnie Ivoirienne de Production d’Electricité. The country also counts the presence of Total, France Telecom, Société Générale, Crédit Lyonnais, BNP Paribas, AXA and the principal Francafrican company Groupe Compagnie Francaise de l’Afrique de l’Ouest de Côte d’Ivoire (CFAO-CI) as beneficiaries of its rich resources. The presence of French capital in the country shows how prolific investments in Côte d’Ivoire have been. The profits that emanate from these groups are large enough to give a whole new meaning to democracy for Nicolas Sarkozy’s government.

The gains they make from their influence in Côte d’Ivoire means that France, and other Western powers, are likely to continue to understand “democracy” and “human rights” in ways that match their own strategic and economic interests. The voices of the people of Côte d’Ivoire will remain, like those of the colonised people before them, sidelined.

Nakama Popoh is a Ceasefire contributor.

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kukuru
Feb 26, 2011 1:25

your article is wonderful but I think you misunderstood many things:

first off about the result of the presidential Election. President Gbagbo Won the elections according to our law which empower the constitutional council as judge of the elections. Allassane and his rebels sheated. The CEI the public body responsible for organising the elections is controlled by Allassane allies at 80%. the regional results that have been cancelled are holding some issues for example: people who are voted are more than people enrolled to vote. This has been discovered by ZUMA that now understand that ONU and france are trying to fool people that why nobody want to recompute the election result’s

Secondly Gbagbo was always fighting french people, when giving contractsfor 3 years for example to them there are always articles that stipulate a yearly review of the contract so that if the government is not okay with the company It can cancel the contract

ciprien
Mar 1, 2011 15:01

@ kukuru,

Here is a little bit of enlightenment:

The fact that Gbagbo won the elections through the constitutional council and not through regular votes forms a part of the problem today. Notice I said a” part of the problem” because the actual crisis has its genesis in the concept of “ivority”, which is a whole other theme.

The constitutional court’s role is to approve the elections if they are carried out in a democratic fashion and devoid of major inconsistencies/irregularities (and they were). However, not only did the CC disapprove the overall general results, but it proceeded to eliminate the results of 7 regions (all of them being Ouattara strongholds). Furthermore the CC after canceling the results in those regions announced Gbagbo Laurent as president and declared him president in the 24hrs following their decision. Now, that sounds like dictatorship to me. it is not the CC’s role to elect the president of the Ivory Coast- only the citizens do that.
Did what the constitutional council do make sense?…… Barely! Can anyone ever count on a dictator and his cronies to ever make sense? NOPE!

Even if 80% of the CEI (the independent electoral commission) were RHDP/RDR/Ouattara partisans it still remains that Gbagbo Laurent’s Big time crony Paul Yao Ndre was (is) at the head of the institution (Constitutional council) that got the final say in the elections… Any smart person who could do the maths could have figured out that even if Ouattara had 50’000 members on the board of the CEI Gbagbo still had the ACE (Yao Ndre) up his sleeve. Maybe thats why he always claimed (publicly) that he was going to win and if he didn’t-…. he would still win.
Also remember that once the CC cancelled the results they never talked about recounting votes or re-elections in the regions concerned.

Second of all Gbagbo has not been fighting the french. He only has differences with Chirac and Sarkozy (its almost personal). If it wasn’t for France (yes, FRANCE) he would have never came to power after Robert Geui’s removal in 2000.
Besides, if it wasn’t for Gbagbo Bolloré would never have been in control of Port Bouët. Gbagbo did renew Bolloré’s concession after he came into power. Also Gbagbo Laurent’s public relations’ right hand man (and good friend) is Guy Labertit. A French socialist who traveled Europe to campaign for Gbago.
Lets not forget that since Gbagbo came to power French companies have blossomed and benefited from his rule- at the detriment of the very people Gbagbo claims to defend- the Ivorians.

So dear friend, please don’t be fooled by propaganda and the patriotism discourse because when it comes to the real deal Hollyfield them boys are out to fill their pockets- regardless of their people. Read between the lines and be critical of What Koudou, Ble Goude and Yao Ndre tell you. For the record Ouattara is no good person either… But he did win the elections faire and square for the simple reason that he was the better alternative for Ivorians. Simple

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